- Stacy H. Small
A Tribute to Stuart Johnson, GM of Brown's Hotel in London
They say it’s how someone made you feel that you always remember most about them. This was definitely true about the charming Stuart Johnson, longtime General Manager of Brown’s Hotel in London. News of Stuart’s unexpected passing on January 26 hit so many of us in a deeply profound manner. It made us stop and think about how much he meant to all who knew him, and how incredible we felt in his company.
I had the opportunity to dine with Stuart on a Sunday evening in London last November. Not only did he insist on cutting his weekend short to spend several hours on a Sunday night with me, but he also seemed delighted to do so! I was in London for a brief business trip, but I felt compelled to add on a few nights. I honestly could have stayed anywhere in London, but I chose to stay at Brown’s because I wanted to experience what I’d been sending my clients there to experience.
Post-pandemic, more than ever, my short list of hotels to recommend in cities like London comes down to “Who do I know there? I need to make sure it’s someone who will make sure my clients feel special.” No doubt about it Brown’s was always a safe bet because Stuart Johnson was the GM. I never had to worry about clients; I knew they’d be taken care of because Stuart always welcomed them like family, as he did for me on my recent stay.
The news of Stuart’s passing has been surreal, shocking, upsetting, just horrible in all of the worst ways. This was a jovial, joy-filled, kind, hug-giving, funny, gregarious, interesting, magnetic human whose energy was contagious. Not to mention, he was a survivor. He survived the loss of his longtime wife to cancer too young. He survived his own bout of cancer.
He told me over dinner in November at Charlie’s during my stay that he’d never felt healthier or happier. Surviving the pandemic wasn’t exactly on anyone’s schedule, but he’d gotten to enjoy life in the countryside while overseeing the Brown’s upgrades/renovations during the forced closure. An avid cyclist, he’d spent a lot of time on his bike enjoying the outdoors.
He had a wonderful woman in his life and told me he planned to marry her and create wonderful new chapters with his family. We talked about personal topics like my own parents’ death from cancer in their 60s, and the need to choose joy in our lives. At the end of our three-plus hour dinner, he gave me the biggest hug and I felt like I’d just dined with a family member—not a hotel GM! He wanted to see photos of the new pup I was rushing home to go rescue, wanted to hear more about how I spent MY pandemic, and as I was leaving, he made a point to introduce me as a ”very important client & supporter of the hotel” to Sir Rocco Forte’s sister Olga who happens to be the hotel’s famed interior designer. He was the kind of person every hotel should aim to have at the helm; someone who just naturally makes every guest feel welcomed from the moment they arrive until they leave.
It goes without further saying that Stuart was truly one of the most admired and kindest GMs, evident by the communication I’ve seen all over social media by his friends, colleagues, and former employees. It was impossible to ignore the sentiments because he had SO many fans.
“Stuart Johnson was a titan of the hotel industry and a friend and mentor to so many,” says Nick Sievewright of Mandarin Oriental Hotels, who worked with Stuart at Brown’s for 12 years. “I simply wouldn’t be where I am without his guidance and support. I will cherish the memories and his legacy will live on.”
Another well-known London hotelier Anthony Lee commented on my Instagram post: “Stuart was a true gentleman and professional who I have known since 1981. We will truly miss him and raise a glass to him wherever he is. A colorful light has gone out.”
Adds Mary Gostelow, founder of Gostelow Report: “Stuart epitomized real hospitality, personally and professionally. So many will miss him but eternally learn from him.”
The note that welcomed me to my suite at Brown’s in November sits on my desk as a reminder of Stuart and how much he impacted me and everyone I booked to stay at Brown’s. Instead of the standard “Dear Stacy, I hope you enjoy your stay,” this note states, on a chic Brown’s notecard: “At which hotel do you stay in London, a gentleman was once asked. He simply replied: I don’t stay at a hotel, I stay at Brown’s.” It then continued: “Wishing you a very warm welcome, may Brown’s be your home away from home.” And of course, it was hand-signed by Stuart P. Johnson, Managing Director. I will save that note forever.
Rest well my friend, you are so missed and the memories of time spent with you will forever be cherished.
Stacy H. Small is the Founder/CEO of Elite Travel Club